116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — A football adage claims if you don’t have one quarterback you have none.
The idea challenges the efficacy of a dual-quarterback system.
OK, Boomer. Just don’t utter the old-school message to Iowa City High’s Quinton Tran and Drew Larson or Little Hawks Coach Mitch Moore.
The sophomore duo and longtime friends have competed against and helped each other, while sharing time under center for Class 5A seventh-ranked City High. They have helped lead the Little Hawks to the state semifinals for the first time since 2010 and will take the field against No. 2 Southeast Polk Friday night at the UNI-Dome, starting at 7.
“If that doesn’t embody the chemistry of our team, I don’t know what does,” Moore said. “It is everything you need to know. You have two guys, who have not thought I’m competing for this job myself. It’s ‘I’m trying to make this team better in whatever role I can and what should the quarterback do.’
“It’s unbelievable. It’s been fun (and) a neat thing to be a part of.”
Here’s the rub. Not only are they underclassmen but neither threw a varsity pass before this season. Tran was not the freshman team’s starting quarterback last season. Larson had always played wide receiver. Now, both have the reins of the Little Hawks’ offense in their hands.
“With Drew there, he makes me better every day,” Tran said. “We always have competition, but at the same time, I love working with him. It has really been good this year.”
The physical skills weren’t an issue for Larson but the intricacies of the position has been a challenge he’s overcome.
“I played baseball, throwing and using my arm a lot, so I have the arm strength, but learning the other parts of quarterback has been tough,” Larson said. “The coaches and everybody have helped.”
The transition began in the offseason. Moore and staff monitored workouts and evaluated players. They were focused on who could run, lead and attend each day. Coaches quickly identified Tran and Larson.
As they determined the pieces of their lineups and how they fit together, Tran and Larson emerged as possible QBs, allowing Moore to move Gable Mitchell and John Klosterman to defense. Those two are second and third on the team in tackles behind Ben Kueter’s 94.
“We put that equation together,” Moore said. “Our quarterbacks, to their credit, have become great students of the game. I think that is where the snowball started.”
The pair are good friends from before their first varsity practice. They attended junior high school together and played flag football against each other. Their parents even went to high school together.
Balancing friendship and an aspiration to be the sole signal caller hasn’t been difficult thanks to a strong bond and team-first mentality.
“You always want to be the guy,” said Tran, noting his strength is extending and making plays, especially when scrambling. “When I’m on the sideline watching him, you want to point out things that you see to help them out. Same thing when he sees things on the field I may not see, he tells me. It helps us. Overall, we just want to get the win.”
Both are trying to be the best, but realize they might be better together.
“I just focus on doing my job,” Larson said. “At the end of the day, if he’s out there, I want him to do good because then our team will do good.”
Tran (5-foot-10 and 160 pounds) and Larson (6-1 and 165) possess similar statistics. Tran has completed 68 of 92 for 900 yards and 10 TDs with a 157.2 QB rating. Larson is 68 of 108 for 1,206 yards (good for 17.7 yards per completion) and 15 TDs with a 156.8 QB rating. Tran has rushed for 187 yards, doubling Larson’s total, but both have one rushing score. Combine the numbers and they compare with any 5A QB.
The Little Hawks have progressively improved throughout the season. They average a 5A-best 45.7 points per game. City High has surpassed more than 500 yards in three straight games before amassing 422 in a 32-13 quarterfinal win over top-ranked Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
“We started with a method of rotating series, knowing when we’ve got in games that were tight we need to go with the guy that was hot or felt had the advantage for that sequence of plays we could run,” Moore said. “I think we have done a good job of evaluating the strengths of our quarterbacks against the other team, so both have the opportunity to play and that keeps teams on their heels a little bit.
“Drew has exceptional arm strength. He can make some long throws. Tran has phenomenal command and awareness of the situation as a quarterback. He has great vision as a runner.”
The toughest test of the season awaits in the Rams (10-1). Tran and Larson will be key to balance the City High attack that includes leading rusher Darren Richardson’s 966 yards and 16 TDs. The defense that has allowed just 9.2 yards per game faces an NCAA Division I recruit at quarterback in Jaxon Dailey, offensive line in left tackle Kadyn Proctor and wide receiver/safety Xavier Nwankpa.
“Don’t back off now,” Moore said to his team. “Enjoy the special moments of it, take it in when you’re there, but work as hard as you ever have. Keep the pedal down and do what you do. I think it has been really good advice.”